Commercial advertising signs have become a source of increasing concern for Bluffton's government, which recently decided to more strictly enforce an ordinance to curb their proliferation.
The town mailed letters this month to business owners reminding them they need a permit to post roadside signs.
The letter reminds recipients that the ordinance is designed to create an attractive atmosphere that will attract new business and that violators face ticketing, fines and additional penalties.
Corrugated plastic and "real estate-style" signs affixed to metal stakes are among the most common violations, according to the letter.
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"There have been an increasing number of violations and complaints received," said town planner Shawn Leininger. He added the town's Growth Management Department will conduct regular inspections to enforce the ordinance.
The ordinance is part of an ongoing street beautification project, Councilman Ted Huffman said.
"That stuff tends to pile up, and people forget about them and they become trash," he said. "Now that the streetscape (project) is coming to fruition, the town's starting to enforce it."
Huffman, who also owns Bluffton BBQ, acknowledged the signs' removal could hurt small businesses that depend on them as valuable free advertising during an economic downturn.
"I have mixed feelings about it because these are tough times, and to get your name out there is hard enough," he said. "But these things are on every corner, and someone needs to clean them up."
The ordinance may be difficult to enforce in certain cases, he added, such as signs advertising dating websites and other online-based businesses, whose owners might be difficult to find.
David Bachelder of Charter One Realty on Hilton Head Island -- who advertises on a sign near the intersection of Calhoun Street and Dr. Mellichamp Drive -- said such signs are his most effective means of promotion.
"Of all the ways for getting a (real estate) listing, the best way is to put a sign up," he said. "It's visual, and when people from out of town see it, they're able to put us in a context with the area, which they couldn't do if they'd seen us online or in a phone book."
He added he would take his sign down if it did not conform with Bluffton's rules.
Although the number of such commercial signs along Bluffton's roads is likely to drop, another kind could soon replace them in even greater numbers -- the ordinance has an exemption for political signs.